Strengthening national capacities to scale-up development-relevant and gender-responsive quality literacy programmes

Literacy is a fundamental human right and the foundation for lifelong learning. In the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, literacy remains a priority under target 4.6, which commits the international community to ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy.

In Southern Africa, progress has been achieved in this area, though not fast enough in some of the countries. A considerable number of countries in the region face the challenge of low literacy levels, especially in the early grades. One aspect contributing to this state is the multilingual and multicultural context of the region. Research revealed that teaching in mother tongue in the early grades enhances children’s ability to learn better than in second or foreign languages. While UNESCO promotes mother tongue-based bilingual or multilingual approaches in education, there is still inadequate commitment and insufficient policy framework in scaling-up teaching in mother tongue in the early grades in the primary school.

Some of the Southern African countries are above the regional average of literacy rates. However, there are still a number of challenges. These include weak learning outcomes among learners in school, out-of-school children who have little chances of becoming literate, a large number of non-literate adults, a shortage of educational materials and a lack of qualified tutors and facilitators to support literacy programmes.

Regional interventions

To address the issues, UNESCO Regional Office of Southern Africa (ROSA) is supporting programmes and activities to develop quality literacy materials for literacy educators and learners through integrating mother language in literacy teaching and learning.

To harness mother tongue in increasing literacy in the region, UNESCO ROSA continues to support member states in raising awareness on use of the mother tongue for communication and learning through activities such as the commemoration of the International Mother Language Day (IMLD). Every year, the UNESCO National Commissions in the member states are supported to host commemorations that bring together participants from schools, governments and civil societies to celebrate multilingualism. There is a specific theme every year. UNESCO also urges and supports member states to commemorate International Literacy Day to raise awareness on the importance of literacy in achieving sustainable development.

In Mozambique, UNESCO is implementing the Capacity Development for Education programme (CapED), a flagship project on promotion of literacy. The CapED programme seeks to improve the capacities of the Literacy and Adult Education sub-sector to enhance progress in achieving quality education. The approach of the project is capacitating literacy tutors to produce better materials for training literacy facilitators support child and parent literacy learning jointly. This is working well to improve literacy levels especially in rural areas.

In September 2017, FunDza, a South African NGO was awarded the UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy for its readers and writers project. The project stands out as a unique way to develop a culture of reading and writing for pleasure through an online platform. The platform provides reading courses and writing competitions as well as connecting readers and writers. The project represent a unique approach to promote literacy for rural populations and out-of-school youth, particularly girls and women. 

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